honey roasted pears with rosemary and hazelnuts

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It’s been properly cold this week, overcast and rainy. The sort of cold that makes it difficult to get out of bed, for as soon as a limb exits the blankets (in the dark, mind you) there’s an inclement bite against your warm exposed skin.

If you’re me, that sensation results in ‘five more minutes’ under the covers before the secondary alarm goes off (by ‘alarm’ I mean Loki and by ‘going off’ I mean his tiny limbs pawing at the bedsheets) at which point I get up, wash my face and pull on something warm.

Turn on the lights, fill the kettle, feed the dog (whose enthusiasm defies both early hours and frigid weather), make tea (usually green tea with lemon or hot water with a hunk of smashed fresh ginger). Now for my favourite part: breakfast.

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I love breakfast. I’m sure I’ve written about this more than once, as a person who falls asleep dreaming of oatmeal or hot buttered bread. I’m one of the many who adhere to the Murray-ism that ‘sleep is like a time machine to breakfast’ (true, that).

These days, I’m working in the city which necessitates a short commute on public transport. It’s nothing to moan about, however my early departure has resulted in Weetbix, warm almond milk and banana on more days than I care to mention. It’s not a bad breakfast by any means, but as the week progresses I find myself dreaming about Saturday sleep ins and options like corn fritters, sautéed mushrooms and warm bowls of creamy porridge. Like this one, eaten a few weeks ago on a frosty morning with lashings of cold cream:

eatI had hoped to bring you a savoury recipe this week, something like zucchini noodles or creamy Jungle curry with brown rice. However, my aforementioned work schedule defeated me (particularly as the change of season has led to early sunsets, usually whilst I’m riding home on the bus) and whilst we ate such things for dinner, there was absolutely no light for photography.

So, that said, I’m posting a recipe that I had saved from our time in Balingup a few weeks ago: fragrant honey roasted pears with rosemary, cinnamon and a touch of citrus.

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This recipe is dead easy. It sounds fancy (strangely, all roasted fruit sounds fancy to me) but all you really need is a sturdy pan and an hour or so for the pears to roast in their gorgeously floral honey syrup. The end result is perfect for a weekend breakfast or a lazy dessert with thick double cream.

If you’re a fan of oats, I’d definitely recommend trying this recipe as we did: atop creamy porridge with crunchy roasted nuts and a dusting of spice. It’s both simple and a little indulgent, perfect for cold mornings with a mug of hot tea.

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One little tip: if you are going to eat these pears for breakfast, I’d recommend disregarding my ‘serving suggestion’ (which features the haves in their entirety), taking out the core and dicing them prior to topping your porridge. It’s slightly less pretty to look at but altogether easier to eat (and easy to eat = win, in my humble opinion).

Happy first of May, lovelies x

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honey and rosemary roasted pears

Serves 6-8 as a breakfast topper or 3-4 as a dessert with cream

  • 3 large or 4 small pears (preferably bosc or another firm fleshed variety), halved
  • 1/4 cup quality floral honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick (or a good sprinkle of ground cinnamon)
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved
  • 1 orange, 4 strips of rind removed
  • small rosemary sprig (reserve a few leaves to serve)
  • good handful of hazelnuts
  • optional, to serve: old fashioned porridge (I cooked ours in a mixture of coconut and dairy milk, sooo creamy) and/or a good dollop of thick coconut or dairy cream

Preheat oven to 200°C/180°C fan-forced. Place the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking tray and toast for 10 minutes or until the hazelnuts are aromatic and lightly toasted (the skins should have started to crack). Set aside to cool.

Combine honey and 1/2 cup cold water in a roasting pan. Squeeze in the juice from the orange, then add pears, skin-side up. Add cinnamon, vanilla bean, rosemary and orange rind.

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Cover pan tightly with foil and roast for 30 minutes. Remove foil and carefully turn pears. Return to the oven, uncovered, and roast for a further 40 to 50 minutes or until pears are caramelised and tender, basting with the syrup halfway through cooking (splash in a little more water if the syrup is reducing too quickly).

Meanwhile, pour the cooled hazelnuts into a tea towel and rub gently until the skins have separated. Discard the skins and chop the nuts coarsely.

Remove pears from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.

We served ours warm atop the creamy porridge, drizzled with a little more syrup and topped with chopped hazelnuts, fresh rosemary and a little extra cream. These pears are also wonderful for breakfast with thick Greek yoghurt or for dessert, try them warm with thick coconut or dairy cream.

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quince and amaretto cake

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It was my mum’s birthday last week. As previously mentioned on the blog, she’s a fan of ‘healthy-ish’ cakes; those with chunks of fruit or shredded vegetables, almond meal or ricotta, less sugar than the average celebratory kind.

I usually bake her some sort of carrot loaf (like these cupcakes) or a dense orange and almond cake (like this one) but as I had leftover poached quince sitting in the fridge, I decided to experiment with a very old fashioned ‘upside down cake’.

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Just so you know: I’d never previously made an upside down cake. Despite trying the ‘classic pineapple‘ version during my childhood, the idea of making my own seemed… well, rather antiquated (perhaps due to mental images of 1920’s housewives!).

However, after spying this stunning creation by Gina De Palma on Fine Cooking, I was hooked on the idea of an upside down quince cake. Ruby wedges of fragrant quince atop a soft, moist almond cake? Definitely mum’s kind of thing.

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As I had already poached my autumn quince with a good amount vanilla and spice, I decided to divert from the spiced brown sugar cake batter in Gina’s original recipe. Instead, worked from this recipe, incorporating a generous amount of fragrant lemon zest whilst swapping the brown sugar and honey for white caster sugar. I also added a generous glug of Amaretto instead of vanilla essence (it’s a birthday, after all).

We shared this ruby red autumn beauty last night after a Moroccan-inspired dinner for mum’s birthday. Each slice was served warm (except dad’s, because dad) with a dollop of thickened cream and toasted almonds for crunch.

Happy birthday mama bear. Love you x

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quince and amaretto cake

Makes one 22cm cake

cake:

  • poached quince (about 2 quince worth, or 1/3 of recipe)
  • 250g salted butter (approx 1 cup) at room temperature
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups (250g) white caster sugar
  • 2 tsp finely grated (unwaxed) lemon rind
  • 1/2 cup (50g) almond meal (ground almonds)
  • 3/4 cup (185mL) almond milk (substitute other plant based or dairy milk)
  • 2 1/4 cups (300g) self-raising flour, sifted
  • good glug of Amaretto liqueur (substitute vanilla essence or another sweet almond or hazelnut liqueur)

to serve:

  • 1 cup quince poaching liquid, reduced over the stove into a syrup* (optional)
  • 1/4 cup toasted flaked almonds

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease the base and sides of a 22cm springform pan and line well with baking parchment.

Slice the quince wedges into neat slices that are around 1cm thick. Arrange half of the slices in a rough concentric circle around the outer ring of the prepared cake pan (set the rest of the slices aside to create a layer of quince in the centre of the cake). Keep moving inwards until the bottom of the pan is covered (I didn’t bother being too perfectionistic, however you can cut the slices a bit thinner and create overlapping patterns if you desire!). Set aside.

Add the softened butter and sugar into a large bowl. Beat well with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each new addition. Fold in the almond meal and lemon rind, then the milk and Amaretto. Finally, sift over the flour and fold to incorporate.

Carefully spoon half of the batter over the quince slices. Smooth out with the back of a spoon, then layer over the other half of your quince slices. Top with the remaining batter, carefully smoothing the surface to hide any pieces of quince. Tap the tin on a hard surface to ensure the batter fully adheres to the quince at the bottom of the tin.

Place the tin onto an oven tray (to ensure that escaping quince juices don’t end up on the bottom of your oven), then transfer the cake into your preheated oven. Bake, uncovered, for 60-90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin, releasing the sides of the tin after 5 minutes.

To serve, slice the domed top off the cake (if there is one) and carefully invert it onto a plate. Peel back the baking parchment slowly, ensuring that any broken or dislodged slices of quince are carefully placed back onto the cake with a butter knife.

If desired, pour over a little bit of the reduced quince syrup, smoothing it over the cake with the back of a spoon (I let a bit run down the sides to look pretty). Scatter the toasted almonds around the edges if you fancy. Serve wedges of this cake at room temperature or warm (don’t serve this cake cold or you’ll lose the subtleties of the quince and almond liqueur) with a good spoonful of thickened cream.

*quince syrup: just simmer the reserved poaching liquid in a small pan over medium heat (I add a little splash of white wine vinegar but that’s not even necessary,  I just like a little extra tang) until it becomes thickened and glossy. Watch the pan as you don’t want it to darken too much. When the syrup reaches your desired consistency, allow it to cool slightly, then drizzle some over the cake as above. Serve the remainder with the cake, for people to pour over as desired.

char-grilled watermelon salad with mint and goats cheese

plate4It’s been a slow couple of months at the Mess. Slow and weary; mostly due to the insufferably hot Summer weather. Over the past two months I’ve been reluctant to even move, never mind turn on the oven. Aaron and I have spent a majority of nights sleeping on the cool kitchen floor underneath our single air conditioning unit (don’t get too excited, it hardly copes with humidity. Cool, wet towels have become my new best friend).

Meals? Well, they’ve largely consisted of raw vegetables, hummus, sourdough and cultured butter, chunks of good cheddar and the occasional barbecue chicken from Red Rooster. Oh, and homemade quinoa tofu sushi. That’s about as interesting as it gets. melonNot that I’m complaining. In fact, I’ve quite enjoyed these nights of light, simple food. My sole problem has been poor blogability, if that’s even a word. Nothing’s really stood out as beautiful enough to throw into the blogosphere.

Add that to the absence of my beloved laptop (which has officially bitten the dust) and the lack of Western Australian daylight savings and… well, you’re left with a dearth of recent blog content. I’m dreadfully sorry. vase But back to today’s post and the beauty of char-grilled watermelon. This, my friends, is the kind of food that makes my weary, sweat-soaked Summer heart sing.

Quickly tossing watermelon onto a hot grill plate creates a beautiful smoky exterior that contrasts perfectly against the sweet, juicy flesh. Add some fresh mint, creamy chevre, crunchy pistachios and piquant lemon and you’ve got a salad fit for warm weather entertaining. plate1 Or for eating by yourself, with sweet grilled chicken and a glass of chilled white wine.

Happy February, friends. plate3 Char-grilled Watermelon Salad

Serves 2

  • 4 one-inch-thick slices of seedless watermelon, rind removed
  • 2 spring onions, washed and thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • 1 sprig mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 2 hunks of good-quality goats cheese, preferably French chèvre (approx 20g per person)
  • 1 tsp lemon rind
  • 1 tbsp toasted, shelled pistachio nuts, crushed
  • light olive oil or coconut oil, to cook

Lemon Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (juice from half an average lemon)
  • a good pinch of brown or coconut sugar (to taste)
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

Heat a char-grill pan or barbecue plate to high heat (or until it starts smoking).

Rub each side of the cut watermelon with olive or coconut oil, then immediately transfer onto the hot pan or rack. Cook for 2 minutes on each side or until grill marks appear. Transfer two slices onto each plate.

Combine all of the dressing ingredients into a small screw top jar. Shake, then taste. Adjust amounts of acid or sweetness to your liking (ensure the dressing is a little acidic as you’ll require the acid as a contrast to the sweet watermelon.

dressingingred dressing Top the watermelon slices on each plate with some crumbled goats cheese, mint, spring onions and finely grated lemon rind. Drizzle with a bit of the lemon dressing and sprinkle with crunchy pistachio nuts.

Serve alongside some grilled white fish or chicken for a complete meal. Or as a Vegetarian option, add some sourdough and cultured butter for a pretty delicious lunch. plate2

roasted figs with honey, cointreau and mint. and contemplation

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I’ve been contemplative today. Unsettled and ruminative; mostly about life itself, the short time that we grace the planet, the responsibility that comes with a time-limited existence. It’s mostly due to reading this blog post from Matt Treadwell yesterday, alongside this article in The West Australian.

Life is short. We are born, we breathe, we leave our tread on temperamental sand. Then, in a moment, we’re extinguished. Our flesh dissolves, leaving nothing but dust and scattered memories.

Those memories should mean something. Not necessarily on a global scale, through acclaim or notoriety; but rather, by leaving our homes in a better condition than when we arrived. By ‘home’, I’m referring to more than our personal structures of wood our brick; I mean our neighbourhoods, the earth and its people.

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First and foremost, I want to invest my life into those I love, the people who swell my heart when I wake in the morning. I want to feed my family, to turn the soil, to provide nourishment, love and generosity. Secondly, I want to give to those less fortunate than myself. That principle is embedded in my faith and in my heart, and I’ve felt an increasing urgency towards demonstration.

Complacency is the enemy of effectiveness. Oblivion breeds ignorance. We should encourage neither.

I should probably apologise as so far, this post has become both bleak and multi-faceted. In an attempt to confine my thoughts, I’m choosing just one issue for the rest of this post: nourishment, growth and tending the earth we walk upon.

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I feel blessed to be part of a community of bloggers who often share similar thoughts to my own, so apologies if I’m preaching to the converted. But I’d like to take a moment to talk about unsprayed, natural, organic food that’s sold from earth-stained hands, not the supermarket duopoly. Perishable, imperfect, seasonal food that both nourishes and protects our bodies. The way nature intended.

If or when we have children, I’d like them to know how to grow their own food, how to nourish the earth and live lightly on this fragile planet. I want them to eat oranges in winter, broad beans in spring and squash in the summer heat. Supermarkets have led to general ignorance about seasonal food, mostly as importation of produce and cold preservation leads to year-round availability.

Convenient? Yes. Natural? Hell no.

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Now, I’m not knocking those of you who shop at supermarkets occasionally, particularly for dry goods or other products that aren’t available at the markets. I do the same myself; I give in to convenience or necessity. However, for both health reasons and ‘green reasons’, I do feel that it’s our responsibility to support those who are trying to make an imprint on the earth through growing natural, unsprayed and organic produce for wider sale. It’s better for the ecosystem, for the next generation and most of all, for our bodies.

Two years ago, I discovered a wonderful blog called Whole Larder Love. It’s written by a ‘grubby bush kid’ named Rohan Anderson who cooks, harvests, fishes and hunts his own fresh produce in country Victoria, Australia. Rohan has since gone on to write a book whilst also starting up a small business, supplying fresh, organic fruit and vegetable boxes to hungry folks in Melbourne and surrounding suburbs.

Last week, Rohan wrote this blog post calling for help to sustain his business. Due to insufficient orders, he’s currently operating below costs. For reasons of disclosure, I don’t know Rohan and I have no personal investment in his business. I’m writing purely in support of one guy who is trying to make a difference, to support his family and the next generation. If you live in Melbourne or surrounding areas, I’d encourage you to read this blog post and take a look at his shop.

For those who live over the west side, I’ve compiled a list of equivalents in our local area who provide good, local, organic, natural food.

Market:

Box deliveries:

Or even better, if you have the space, grow your own.

Now, after that huge rant, here’s a recipe using one of my absolute favourite fruits of the season: fresh figs, which are presently being harvested in fragrant abundance. Over the past week, my beautiful colleague Belinda brought in two bags of these beauties for me, handpicked from her neighbour’s tree. We ate them, warm from the oven with homemade pistachio ice cream, crumbled shortbread and sighs of sweet content.

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Roasted Figs with Honey, Cointreau and Mint

Serves 4-8

  • 8 large fresh figs
  • 2 tbsp good quality honey
  • about 1 tbsp Cointreau (substitute Grand Marnier or another triple sec)
  • ground cinnamon
  • fresh mint, washed and finely shredded, to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees f). Line a heavy flat baking tray with parchment.

Cut each fig in half, then lay each cut side up onto the baking tray. Drizzle over the honey and Cointreau, then sprinkle each with a little cinnamon.

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Place into the oven and roast until fragrant, bubbling and slightly golden around the edges.

Serve immediately, sprinkled with mint and topped with any syrup from the baking tray, Fabulous with ice cream, marscapone or double cream.

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wholemeal mince pies with spiced whisky fruits

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It’s 2:42am on December 25th, 2012: officially Christmas day. You’re probably wondering why I’m up so early. Well… it’s not because I’m excited about raiding Christmas stockings or unwrapping illusive presents. It’s more to do with the fact that I haven’t yet been to bed, and I need to stay awake to let my volleyball-playing husband through our apartment block’s security gate. Sigh. One of the hazards of letting your husband put his keys into your handbag is that sometimes he (or you) forgets to take them out. In this case, though, it was my fault. I forgot to leave them on our friend’s kitchen counter when leaving a Christmas eve party in a post-jovial state of fatigue.

So, now you know why I’m sleepily writing a recipe for mince pies after 2 o’clock on Christmas morning. In all honesty, it’s rather nice… the air outside is cool, still and permeated by the sound of chirping crickets. Very occasionally, a car drives down the highway, leaving a hum in it’s wake. Yep, I like the night hours. Even though I know I’ll be sleepy the next day.

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Anyway, back to the mince pies. I’m actually eating one as I type, the evidence of which is a buttery crumb that’s embedded itself in my keyboard. I’m eating more for analytical value than out of hunger, and consequentially, each ‘chew’ is quite contemplative. First you get the crisp crunch of buttery pastry, followed by the sweet plumpness of whisky-infused apricots, the chew of raisins and some soft notes of spice and ginger. Delicious, at any time of the day or night.

Growing up, I was exposed to many Christmas traditions, both in the northern and southern hemispheres. It was one of the benefits of being a diasporic child with scattered family and friends; in fact, I probably spent more childhood Christmases in the United Kingdom than in my ‘official’ home of Australia. Understandably, this fragmented upbringing has led to an eclectic range of Christmas associations that are embedded deep within my psyche. These range from the gentle drone of a fan in the deep, dark of night to the experience of waking up by a frozen window, wearing woolen socks and flannelette pyjamas. But despite the differences in climate, cuisine and culture, there is one Christmas treat that I remember eating, no matter where I was.

Can you guess? If you said the ‘fruit mince pie’, you’d be correct. If you didn’t, you’ve obviously not been following the theme in this early morning assembly of words and… I guess I don’t blame you. Or me, as I’m writing this in a sleep-deprived state.

When I was a child, our family’s mince pie of choice was Mr Kipling, the quintessentially English treat that came in a shiny red-and-white box with embossed lettering. I loved them, and often kept the shiny foil cases after I’d polished off every morsel. I still have a soft spot for Mr Kipling whenever I see the festive displays in supermarkets; however, in recent years I’ve been making an effort to increase both the health value and the ethical quality of the food I eat, even during the indulgent Christmas season.

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So, by means of a (final) introduction to the following recipe, I just want to say that the humble mince pie is a wonderful thing. Eaten hot or cold, in a bowl or in your hands, they’re highly adaptable and can easily morph from a snack to dessert à la mode in a matter of minutes. The recipe I’ve included has been influenced by a number of sources, both from the internet and from various baking cookbooks I’ve collected over the years. It’s predominantly wholemeal, suet-free, and as organic as I could make it.

Personally, I feel that the added booze adds a beautiful depth and complexity to the fruit mince, however if you’d prefer to omit it for personal (or parenting) reasons I’d replace it with the same quantity of apple juice, orange juice or water. It’ll be beautiful either way.

So, Merry Christmas everyone. May your day be merry, bright and delicious, even if (like me) it’s going to be dry, hot and brown rather than frosty white.

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Wholemeal Mince Pies with Spiced Whisky Fruits

Shortcrust Pastry:

  • 225g cold organic butter, diced
  • 200g wholemeal plain flour
  • 150g white plain flour
  • 100g raw caster sugar
  • 280g fruit mince (recipe to follow)
  • 1 egg white
  • icing sugar, to dust

For this recipe, you will need a 20 x 5cm hole patty tin or mini-muffin tray. Make sure that each hole is greased well with butter before you start.

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Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Measure both your flours into a medium-sized bowl. Add in your cold butter, then rub together with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add in the sugar and a pinch of crushed sea salt. Combine into a ball, then knead slightly. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then place into the refrigerator for 20 minutes to chill.

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When your pastry is chilled but still workable, turn it out onto a floured surface. Divide it into two halves, then set one half aside (this will later form the tops of your mince pies). With a rolling pin, roll the other half of your pastry into a smooth disc around 0.5cm thick. Using a 6.5cm cutter, cut out approximately 18-20 rounds to form the pastry bases (re-roll any offcuts of pastry to the same thickness as required).

Insert your pastry discs into each hole, pressing well into the edges of the tin. You may find at this stage that your pastry starts to fall apart; this is entirely normal for a ‘short’ dough (as both the fat and the sugar in your mixture inhibit the gluten in the flour from binding together and becoming elastic). All you need to do is ensure that you press all the fragmented parts together thoroughly, so that they’ll adhere adequately when cooked.

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When your pastry cases are complete, prick the bases with a fork to allow air to escape during the cooking process. Apply a little beaten egg white with a pastry brush to seal the surface, then add one heaped teaspoon of fruit mince into each case.

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On a floured surface, roll out your reserved pastry (optional: keep a small baby-fist-sized portion aside for decorative purposes) to 0.5cm thick. Cut out 5cm rounds with a biscuit cutter or the inner lip of jam jar (as I did) then place them on top of your filled mince pies. Press around the edges lightly with your fingers to seal.

When all of your pies are completed, glaze them with a little more egg white. If desired, you can then decorate them with pastry shapes like the ‘leaf’ pattern I developed below. It’s ridiculously simple; just cut some diamond shapes from your leftover pastry, shape them into little ‘leaves’ with your hands and then press the edges lightly with the tines of a fork (see image below). Use a blunt knife to form a ‘vein’ down the middle of each leaf, then place them onto your pastry cases, pressing to aid adhesion.  Brush each leaf with a little egg wash, then dust the whole lot with some raw caster sugar.

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Place your finished mince pies in the oven, checking regularly, for 30 minutes to 1 hour (depending upon the reliability of your oven). The pies will be done when the tops are light golden, you can smell the fragrant spices of the hot fruit mince and the pie surface is slightly firm and dry to the touch.

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Leave your pies to cool in the tin on a wire rack. When sufficiently cooled, twist each pie slightly to release it from it’s mold, then lift it out carefully. Arrange on a serving platter and dust with icing sugar to serve.

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Spiced Whisky Fruit Mince

  • 1 small Granny Smith (green) apple; peeled, cored and grated
  • 285g mixed dried fruit (I used chopped dried apricots, raisins and sultanas)
  • 60g glace cherries
  • 1/3 cup bitter marmalade
  • 1/4 tsp mixed spice (I used Herbie’s Fragrant Sweet Spices)
  • a couple of shakes of cinnamon, extra
  • 1 good splash of Stone’s Ginger Wine
  • 2 tbsp whisky
  • 2 tbsp water

Combine all of the above in a medium sized bowl. Mix well, cover, then refrigerate overnight (or for at least 8 hours) for the liquid to absorb.

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The next morning, stir your mixture well. Your fruit should be plump and fragrant, with a little thickened liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Use as per the recipe above; any leftover fruit mince can be kept refrigerated for up to five days, or frozen for up to three months.

Notes:

  • This recipe uses wholemeal shortcrust pastry, organic butter, organic, suet-free dried fruit filling and a touch of liquor. I’m not going to go as far as to call it ‘healthy’, but it’s definitely healthier than the  shop-bought versions which contain vegetable shortening, refined sugar and lard.
  • ‘Shortcrust’ pastry got it’s name from the fact that the protein strands are actually ‘shorter’ than in normal pastry, because each flour particle is coated in fat (in this case, butter) and sugar. This prohibits the development of elasticity and consequential chewiness.
  • Flowing on from this, shortcrust is actually the most crumbly, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth pastry around. The normal ratio for flour to fat for this pastry is 1:1. However, the quantities above will still give you a beautifully tender, buttery result (whilst being a little better for the waistline).
  • Any leftover fruit mince can easily be transformed into fruit pillow biscuits, these fruit mince scrolls or these deliciously fruity truffles. As above, you can also freeze it in an airtight container for a few months.

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